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John G. Wright

Soviet Life In Wartime

What the Moscow Press Reveals

(October 1943)

The colossal power unleashed by the Soviet masses in their 28 months of life-and-death struggle against German imperialism have found their most spectacular expression in the unprecedented military feats of the Red Army. Crucial as they are, the achievements on the military arena represent only one aspect of the total war effort.

Leon Trotsky pointed out that

“... the so-called military ‘potential’ depends primarily upon the economic strength of the state. ... In times of peace, the measuring of the economic might between the two hostile social systems can be postponed—for a long time, although by no means forever—with the help of political devices, above all the monopoly of foreign trade. During a war the test is made directly upon the field of battle.”

Because of Stalin’s policies the economic strength of the Soviet Union has been submitted to this gravest test under the most adverse conditions. The first workers’ state in history created in one of the most backward countries of Europe with only 15 years of planned economy behind it—and, moreover, with these three Five-Year Plans carried out under the degenerate, wasteful and rapacious Stalinist bureaucracy—was pitted in single combat against Germany, the most advanced capitalist country in Europe, backed by the entire resources of a conquered continent.

These are overwhelming odds. Stalin, who long ago betrayed Bolshevism, staked everything on his alliance with London and Washington. What aid has this actually brought to the embattled Soviet masses? The Kremlin promised the Soviet soldiers, workers and peasants that they would get vital military assistance—a “second front.” More than two years have gone by, and despite the persistent pleas and whining of Stalin and his Browders, there has been no “second front.” Whatever London and Washington may decide to do in this connection in the next period—in order to serve their own interests and policies — cannot alter the fact that even from a purely military standpoint, Stalin’s foreign policy has brought the Soviet Union exactly zero.

But what about lend-lease? Let us hear what one of the most serious publications of the American bourgeoisie has to say on this subject. Leland Stowe in an article in the October issue of the quarterly Foreign Affairs writes:

“The American lend-lease and British supplies did not reach Soviet Russia in sufficient proportions to become a major factor in the crucial defensive fighting along the Don, in the northern Caucasus and at Stalingrad during the summer and early autumn of 1942. This flow became really important only about the time that the Russians had already demonstrated their bulldog grip on Stalingrad.”

Mr. Stowe is compelled to admit that the Red Army’s military record represents an “exclusively Soviet achievement.” In public the capitalist press of course loudly denies this. But among themselves these gentlemen prefer the truth.

Soviet industry and agriculture, that is, Soviet workers and peasants, have borne the full brunt of the struggle. Despite all the terrible handicaps, the Soviet Union, even under Stalin, has already demonstrated on the military arena the superiority of nationalized economy, over decaying capitalism just as it had previously demonstrated the superiority of socialist methods in times of peace by the unprecedented economic achievements under the three Five-Year Plans. Every thinking worker will ask himself: If the conquests of the socialist revolution can lead to such attainments in a backward country, then what heights can the workers of advanced countries in Europe and the United States reach?

Side by side with their remarkable record of achievement must be placed the terrible price that the Soviet masses have had to pay for the Stalinist leadership and policies. The official Moscow press is beginning to divulge the full impact of the war on the Soviet Union.

Civilian and military casualties number between 15 and 20 millions. Soviet economy is feeling the pinch of manpower despite its vast human reserves. Youth and women comprise the bulk of the industrial personnel.

Here is a typical editorial comment in Pravda that discloses the true picture:

“Our economy has proved capable of preparing in a short period of time labor cadres to replace those called to the front. Some 1,400,000 new workers from the trade schools and the FZO (factory and stop schools) alone have streamed into Industry and transport during the war period. In addition, women by the hundreds of thousands — the wives and sisters of front line fighters—have entered the factories.” (Pravda, July 8.)

The New Cadres in Industry

The FZO and the “trade schools” supply Soviet industry with girls and boys from ten to seventeen years of age, and even younger. It should be recalled that child labor was introduced by the Kremlin in October 1940, that is, eight months prior to Hitler’s invasion; and in this brief period almost a million youngsters were already integrated in industry. The number of children and adolescents now employed, according to Stalin’s own figures, must be in the neighborhood of three million.

The proportion of women in industry is a jealously guarded secret. But it is possible to arrive at an estimate.

Pravda constantly refers to new hundreds of thousands of women workers. Special drives are conducted to speed the influx of women into industry. The press regularly features the achievements of women workers. The International Women’s Day is one of the few traditional socialist holidays still celebrated with great pomp. During the celebrations this year, Pravda stated editorially:

“The women back of the lines have shown themselves to be self-sacrificing patriots. All the strength of our womanhood, their abilities, their knowledge, their experience and time are wholly at the disposal of their native state. The working woman and peasant woman accept the government’s assignments as an iron law. But they strive to raise the productivity of labor and to work more efficiently. They take upon themselves additional obligations.” (Pravda, March 6.)

Seven years ago, in 1936, there were almost 3,500,000 women in heavy industry, metal and machine plants, construction and mines; and another million in light industry. It may be assumed that there is at least double that number now.

The New Cadres in Agriculture

The dominant role of women and children is even more marked in agriculture. Pravda flatly states:

“The youth has truly become the decisive force in the collective farm production. Youths and girls, adolescents are now working as tillers and tractor operators; they tend cattle, raise grain, vegetables and technical crops. An important section of the youth is in charge of special squads, brigades and cattle breeding farms.” (Pravda, January 20.)

One of the major activities of the bureaucracy this year has been to reconstitute the Komsomol (Russian Young Communist League) in the villages in order to give the necessary direction to agriculture. The Komsomol organization, reorganized so many times in the past, must be rebuilt from scratch. Here is a picture of its present condition:

“In the Rokhatinsk district of the Tadjik Soviet Socialist Republic there are 52 primary Komsomol organizations, but more than half of them exist only on paper. Meetings of the Komsomol take place only sporadically. In 10 collective farm organizations there were no meetings at all last year. Many members of the Komsomol have lost all touch with the organization.” (Pravda, January 20.)

For the first time in years local and district-wide meetings activists of the Komsomol are being held. They are attended by prominent functionaries. Kalinin, the President of the Soviet Union, was assigned to speak at a meeting of the Moscow Komsomol. (Pravda, February 14.)

Benediktov, the People’s Commissar of Agriculture, made a tour of individual collective farms, addressing the meetings of the Komsomol. At one of these meetings in the Tambov region he said:

“The major part of the field work is being done today, in the time of war, by the young boy and girl collective farmers.” (Pravda, July 8.)

The report of the attendance at this meeting gives a cross-section of the forces now available in agriculture.

“To the meeting of the Komsomol of the ‘Svetly Put’ kolkhoz in the Tambov district there came the boys and girls of the entire village; there came kolkhoz women and the aged folk.” (Idem.)

The Tambov district is one of the rich farming areas, back of the front lines. It goes without saying that a model collective farm was selected for a meeting with such a high dignitary as the People’s Commissar of Agriculture. The local bureaucrats, it is no less obvious, must have done their utmost to get the largest possible attendance. Yet the only adults present were women and the aged. By and large, this attendance faithfully reproduces the war-time population of this particular village, and of the other villages throughout the country.

Conditions in Agriculture

Of all the sectors of Soviet economic life, agriculture has suffered the most and is under the gravest strain. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of the richest agricultural areas have been turned into wasteland. Pravda speaks of the reoccupied territories as “desert land.”

The functioning kolkhozi (collective farms) and the sov khozi (state farms) suffer from acute labor shortage, scarcity of machinery, replacement parts and fuel. The lack of horses has compelled the utilization of cows for field work and transportation.

To the needs of the civilian population and the army is now added the terrible plight of the population in the vast territory recaptured from the Germans. Since last winter the Red Army has recaptured an area four times as great as Germany. Tens of millions of civilians still remain in this “desert land.”

Among the emergency measures initially adopted by the Kremlin were voluntary donations of cattle, pigs, poultry, grain, etc., by collective farms in the rear to those in the devastated areas. For many months the Kremlin conducted a nation-wide campaign to spread this movement, ostensibly launched by the collectives themselves but actually initiated from the top.

This campaign touted by Pravda in June as embracing “millions of male and female collective farmers” proved a failure. The results were pitifully inadequate. The original plan of the Kremlin doubtless envisaged contributions of cattle, seed, etc., from the private possessions of the peasants. The press laid stress on personal “donations.” But the bulk of the actual stock obtained under administrative pressure came from the property of the collectives and state farms, and thus tended to weaken them still further.

Sharper measures were then applied. Amidst great fanfare the Kremlin suddenly announced on August 22 a “state plan for reconstruction of the Nazi-occupied areas as fast as they are liberated.” Every paper in Moscow featured it to the exclusion of all other news. The full text is not yet available, but the cables make the salient features of the plan quite clear. Restoration of agriculture is the burning problem. By October 15, “200,000 cattle, 350,000 sheep and goats, and 55,000 horses” will be supplied to the liberated areas in the north and the south. (New York Times, August 23.)

In the decree these herds are referred to as “evacuated cattle” which are being returned to their original collective farms. The assignment of quotas to various districts, however, clearly indicates that this is another administrative measure. The quotas cannot be fulfilled without levies on the private stocks of the peasants. And this may lead to dangerous consequences.

The individualistic tendencies within the collectives have been enormously speeded up by the war. The food scarcity and the currency inflation have resulted in a hot-house growth of “millionaire” peasants side by side with the “millionaire” kolkhozi. The huge sums donated and invested in loan drives by individual peasants in all parts of the country are eloquent proof of the resurgence of the “kulak” on the Soviet scene. A clash between the regime and these individualistic tendencies is unavoidable. Signs of it are already discernible.

The Kulak Danger

Editorial after editorial in Pravda warns against individual collective farmers who are “not averse to shirk,” who “evade their obligations” to the collectives, etc. In other words, there are peasants who spend most of their time on their own private strips, who sell on the free market, and hoard grain.

Deliveries of grain to the state are permitted to lag, and often are not fulfilled. Benediktov, the People’s Commissar of Agriculture, warned that the “fighting task” of the Komsomol is to create “militant brigades for the shipment of state grain deliveries.” (Pravda, July 8.)

In a single district, chairmen of 111 collectives were removed; in another, 30. (Pravda, June 28.)

In the reports of plenary sessions of party district and county committees throughout the USSR, there is a constant harping on the failure of this or that region to fulfill its sowing program, or the harvest, or repairs of tractors and combines.

At the Plenum of the Ryazan County Committee, “the work of the leaders of party organizations in Novo Derevensk, Sapozhkonsk, Ukholovsk, Pronsk, Trubechinsk and a number of other regions was severely criticized” for failures in the sowing program. At the Plenum of the Kirov County Committee, “the leaders of Molovsk, Urzhumsk, Sovetsk and Lebyazhsk regions” were criticized for similar failures. (Pravda, June 28.) In a period of a single week in June Pravda listed more than 50 badly lagging areas.

Pravda of course omits to mention that involved here is more than the customary inefficiency and failure of the leadership. The leaders of the various districts are none other than the “millionaire” kolkhozniki.

The most recent moves of the Kremlin—especially the attempt to lean on the youth and the administrative measures to solve the crisis in agriculture—are unmistakable signs of the sharpening of the class struggle in the village. They are grave signals of a growing internal danger.

Soviet Workers in Wartime

One great advantage over the past lies in the fact that the Soviet youth in the village has rallied en masse to the defense of the remaining conquests of the October revolution.

The Soviet workers, especially the youth, are performing miracles of industrial production. The Red Army is kept supplied with all the necessary technical equipment despite the grave losses of industrial plants and raw materials suffered in 1941 and 1942.

For the mass of the workers the food rations are at bare subsistence levels. Housing conditions, very bad before the war, have not improved. Production of civilian goods is almost at a standstill. The little that is produced comes primarily from handicrafts.

Conditions are worst in places like Leningrad and other cities where the needs of the population can be supplied only from local sources. But the Stalinist bureaucracy is now boasting that in July the entire city of Leningrad was served by “346 sewing shops, shoe shops, locksmith and other enterprises” which play “a big role in supplying the inhabitants of Leningrad with mass consumption goods.” (Izvestya, July 2.)

The greatest “successes” have been attained in the production of children’s wear.

“In five months of this year there have been already produced (in Leningrad) 11,400 pairs of children’s shoes, 10,800 overcoats, 7,900 dresses and more than 5,000 warm sweaters.”

It is impossible to purchase even second-hand articles of necessity.

“All sales involve barter: for example, for three pairs of old shoes a new (repaired) pair is issued, and so on.” (Izvestya, July 2.)

Although greatly reduced by the casualties during the siege, the population of Leningrad is now about a million and a half souls.

Such are the conditions under which the Soviet workers have maintained their morale. They are evincing more and more initiative. Their self-confidence has been greatly raised by their own unprecedented achievements and the successes of the Red Army. There are signs that they are exerting an increasing pressure on the bureaucracy. Reflecting this pressure, Izvestya writes:

“is it after all necessary to cite proof that the Soviet people, working in the rear, are consumed with a desire to give all their strength and all their knowledge in order to increase the aid to the front lines? They are concerned by the fate of their native enterprises, they constantly think and worry about them. To listen to their voices, to their opinions, and capably to utilize their fountains of initiative—that is the direct duty of every director in every enterprise”. (Izvestya, July 4.)

Not so very long ago, Stalin’s press used to blame the workers for any drop in production. Now the blame is placed on the local bureaucrats.

Pravda Changes Its Tune

If the production of the Kalinin coal mine in the Molotovsk district has dropped from a peacetime level of 3,000 tons a day to 2,000 tons in 1941 and to 1,574 tons in June 1943, it is the leadership that is wholly to blame. (Pravda, June 28.) But why has this leadership been permitted to undermine production for the entire period of the war? On that score there is silence. The bureaucrats continue their arbitrary rule, immune from the control of the rank and file. The sole remedy remains the lash from the top.

The mines in the Kuzbas, the largest available source of supply, have been lagging badly in coke production, and have thereby disrupted the output of iron and steel.

“The Plenum of the (Kemerovo) County Committee of the party has found unsatisfactory the functioning of the trusts and combines of the Kuzbas in the first six months of the current year. The Plenum has underscored that the City Committees of Prokpiev, Anzhero-Sudzhensk, Leninsk-Kuznetsk, Osstnikov, Stalinsk and Kisselev have failed to assure the elimination of those inadequacies which were pointed out in the motion of the Central Committee of the CPSU concerning the work of the party organizations in the Kuzbas.” (Pravda, July 8.)

Moscow papers of late have resumed featuring articles against bureaucrats and bureaucratic practices. The same gentlemen who have just assumed the prerogatives of a military caste, with all its trappings, gold braid uniforms, special officers’ clubs, orderlies, etc., are now pointing an accusing finger at “directors-aristocrats.”

Party functionaries are under fire for having isolated themselves from the masses. Even in distant Bashkiria, plenums of the highest party bodies pass resolutions condemning longstanding bureaucratic practices.

“Certain party organizations ignore such important forms of education as the calling of meetings of party activists ... The reporter (Secretary Ignatiev of the Bashkir County Committee) called attention to the extremely rare appearances of and political reports from the secretaries of county, regional and city committees of the party, the chairmen of executive committees and of regional Soviets and the leaders of industry. Many Soviet, trade union and cooperative activists have stopped making reports to their respective electorates.” (Pravda, June 28.)

The Kremlin is resuming the old game of unloading its own crimes on its underlings. In the very midst of the greatest victories, the need of scapegoats suddenly becomes acute!

Stalin’s New “Turn”

Above all, Stalin now needs scapegoats on whom to unload the entire responsibility for the working and living conditions of the Soviet masses. A major campaign against the lower-ranking civilian bureaucrats has been in progress for months. In a leading editorial War and the Care of the Toilers’ Living Needs, Pravda hypocritically laments:

“Unfortunately not all local leaders everywhere have become imbued with the consciousness of the fact that it is their daily duty to be concerned about the living needs of the toilers in the rear.”

And then it is stated:

“The government and the party demand a genuine, broad and decisive turn by the local organizations to .provide all-sided services with regard to the living needs of the workers in the rear.” (Pravda, June 18.)

Why was it necessary to wait almost two years before demanding this “turn”? How is it possible for the local organizations to disregard with impunity the elementary needs of the masses? By its belated and hysterical demands, the Kremlin gives the clearest possible expression to the irreconcilable contradiction between its regime and the living needs of the whole country.

Special meetings of the party membership in Moscow are now being held regularly. At one of them a resolution was passed “binding the leadership to give day-to-day care to the living conditions and needs of the toilers.” (Pravda, June 4.) The Twelfth Session of the Moscow City Soviet—another suddenly revived institution—sent a letter to Stalin, informing him that:

“You personally Comrade Stalin are worrying tirelessly about Moscow and your concern and attention inspire all Muscovites to new labor feats. Your constant concern about the needs of the Soviet people obliges us to improve manyfold all our work in satisfying the living needs of the population.” (Pravda, June 26.)

Not only the government and the party but Marshal Stalin himself is demanding a “genuine turn.”

Shocking cases of negligence are being publicly aired.

In the city of Kirov “communal living quarters of the textile workers are without lights, the rooms are dirty and uncomfortable ... The apartment houses attached to the factory have empty rooms; one half of the living area is occupied by individuals not connected with the industry. Meanwhile a portion of the workers lives in barracks unequipped for human habitation ... The factory is not fulfilling the plan.” (Pravda, June 7.) In Chelyabinsk 700 workers are quartered in a former schoolhouse with no facilities for cooking or heating water. “Many cots are without mattresses. Only half of the rooms are supplied with sheets and pillow cases, and these, too, are black with dirt.” (Pravda, June 18.) Again,

“The city baths work irregularly. There used to be cold water but no hot water; now there is hot water but for the last few days no cold water.”

Pravda is indignant that street cars fail to operate regularly and then the workers are blamed for coming late. (Pravda, June 18.)

All this is from an article entitled Damning Facts. Among the facts cited is the following:

“Let us walk into the dining room of a leather factory. Here the workers are compelled to stand in line 30 to 40 minutes. The dining room is supposed to serve 400, but only 6 plates and 2 teaspoons are provided. The dining room has all-told 8 small tables. The kitchen does not contain a single undamaged utensil; food is prepared in pots full of holes which are plugged up with rags ... The director of the factory, Andreyev, remains calm and imperturbable. He and the secretary of the party organization are not at all upset by these abominations.”

The article concludes as follows:

“The adduced facts show that among certain local organizations there is no sign of a genuine Bolshevik concern for the needs of the masses.”

The campaign is nation-wide. The editors of Magnitogorsk Metal in the distant Urals evinced exemplary initiative. They organized “a raid of worker correspondents to check on the functioning of factory dining rooms. Not a few facts of poor service rendered to the workers were disclosed; many valuable suggestions for improving community food-service were made.” But the factory organizations paid no attention. Pravda commended the Magnitogorsk editors for their “raid” and warned the factory administration to correct its attitude toward “the signals in the press.” (Pravda, June 27.)

But just what steps are actually taken to remedy the situation? Let us see what the approved procedure is.

Stalinist Remedies

On May 30 Pravda carried a criticism of “party and trade union leaders and managers of N—— factory for a bureaucratic attitude toward cultural-living conditions of working men and women. This enterprise fails systematically to fulfill the plan.”

On June 28 Pravda was able proudly to report that the bureau of the city committee having jurisdiction over N—— factory took up all these criticisms and found them to be correct.

“The Bureau of the City Committee took note that the party bureau of the factory and its secretary, Comrade Berezin, failed to organize properly the party political work at the factory and did not fully utilize the party’s rights of control over the functioning of the administration. The factory trade union committee and its chairman, Comrade Semeikin, took a formal-bureaucratic attitude toward such a native cause as the satisfaction of the cultural and living requirements of workers and employees.”

All the individuals and organizations involved got a censure. Only Semeikin, chairman of the trade union committee and the lowest ranking bureaucrat, was removed from his post.

Not a word was mentioned about any improvement in the conditions at the factory, or of steps contemplated to that end. One scapegoat was apparently enough in the way of showing a correct attitude toward “signals in the press.”

More than a month after the Moscow membership meeting that passed a resolution on the need of “caring for the workers,” the highest Moscow party committees met in a plenary session. A great deal of criticism was voiced. Especially reprehensible was found to be the work of the housing committees in preparing for the coming winter. “Especially poor is the work of repairing roofs and providing central heating for buildings.” The gathering solemnly affirmed that “individual industrial, party, Soviet and trade union organizations have not taken all the necessary measures for improving the living conditions of the toilers and have failed to evince enough initiative in mobilizing local resources as a result of which biggest inadequacies obtain in rendering service to the living needs of the population.” (Pravda, July 14.) This apparently likewise suffices at the present time as a proper response to “signals in the press.” The groundwork for future scapegoats has in any case been prepared.

The bureaucracy continues to operate in time of war just as it did in the period of peace. Will this satisfy the Soviet workers? Pravda itself hardly thinks so. Recurring more and more frequently in its columns is the old admonition: “There is an increasing need for raising our political vigilance.” In the past this has always served as a signal for wholesale purges.

Last updated: 28.12.2005